R#09's Top 25 Video Games of All Time! (6-2)

And here we delve into the final posts ... check back tomorrow for my favorite video game of all time, plus a heaping pile of honorable mentions for those games that are rad, but didn't quite make the cut. Hope you've all enjoyed reading this as much I did writing it. Cheers.

No. 06 — Baldur’s Gate II: Shadows of Amn
Genre: Role-Playing Game
Release: 2000
Platforms: Microsoft Windows, Mac OS

I have very fond memories of playing through the original Baldur’s Gate with my dad. I was drawn to the rich story, the unique characters (who were never quite as they seemed), and the simple, point-and-click gameplay that faithfully brought Dungeons and Dragons to the PC. Baldur’s Gate II: Shadows of Amn is everything its predecessor was and so much more. You know why these Baldur’s Gate games were so great? The player truly interacted with the world, with the characters that inhabitated it, and the villains that sought to control it. This was so much more than the hack-and-slash RPGs that permeate the genre right now. This is as faithful a representation of D&D as anything out there — the character can choose to fight his or her way out of situations, or negotiate, or one of dozens of other options. Good, evil, neutral, whatever. This is a true sword and sorcery adventure, and one that is a classic of the genre.

No. 05 — Super Mario World
Genre: Platformer
Release: 1990
Platforms: Super Nintendo, Game Boy Advance, Virtual Console

This is it. This is the game that turned me into a gamer. It’s the first game that I truly, legitimately marveled at. The levels were fast, brutal, and inventive. The graphics were bright and colorful and crisp — truly some of the best on any console, then or now. The music? Classic. The boss battles? Enjoyably frustrating. This is the Mario game to end all Mario games — the greatest platformer of all time. I still play this regularly to this day. And really, nothing beats throwing a Koopa shell into a line of Goombas, or getting a 1-Up by bouncing on a Bullet Bill, or getting so much air using the yellow cape that you literally soar across the entire level. Ah, memories.

No. 04 — Mass Effect
Genre: Action / Role-Playing Game
Release: 2007
Platforms: Xbox 360, Windows

I know, I know. Not only is this the most recent game in the top ten, but Mass Effect, while being generally well-received, is not without its flaws. But for me, Mass Effect did what no game had in nearly a decade — it forced me to care. There is a moment in Mass Effect, about three-fourths of the way through — I won’t give exact details for those who haven’t played it. But in this moment, the player must decide who lives and who dies. Not random non-playable characters or random sprites. No, you must choose between two characters who have been with you, fighting by your side, through the entirety of the game. And that … was a very real, very visceral moment in gaming, for me, at least. I sat there, mouth agape, controller limp in my hands, as the dialog window sat open before me, urging me to choose. I think I waited 20 minutes before making a selection. Mass Effect did so many things right — the story was engrossing, the style cinematic (epic, if you will). It had tangible characters with real backstories, and a sci-fi world that, somehow, made perfect sense. Like Baldur’s Gate before it (another BioWare title), Mass Effect had an environment the player could truly interact with and a world they could take part in. I thought about this game for weeks after beating it, saddened it was over. Thankfully, there’s a sequel — it was released today, actually. And you’ll be hearing my thoughts on it soon, undoubtedly.

No. 03 — The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
Genre: Adventure
Release: 1998
Platforms: Nintendo 64, Nintendo Gamecube, iQue Player, Virtual Console

If Super Mario 64 sold me on the potential of the Nintendo 64, then Ocarina of Time solidified its place in my mind as one of the great consoles. And this game — this beautiful, stunning game — is one of the greats as well. Ocarina of Time put you, the player, into the shoes of Link, a young boy destined for greatness. I think Ocarina of Time was the first game with true scope. By that, I mean that it truly felt like you were saving the realm. The first time I beat the Deku Tree dungeon and stepped out onto Hyrule Field, and the camera panned across it, I thought, “Do I get to explore all of this?” I really just couldn’t comprehend it. I mean, really — my 10-year-old self was baffled. I have to admit: I didn’t finish this game as quickly as I might have wanted to. I would get frustrated with a temple and put the game down, coming back to it every once in awhile over the course of about a year and-a-half. Now, though, I’m glad it took me that long to beat the game. It was a truly epic adventure, one that spanned months. I savored this game, enjoying every little moment. Not only is this my favorite Nintendo 64 game, it’s also one of my very favorite games of all time.

No. 02 — Neverwinter Nights
Genre: Role-Playing Game
Release: 2002
Platforms: Windows, Mac OS X, Linux

Let me tell you about Neverwinter Nights. Sit down. First off, it’s a BioWare game, sort of a spiritual successor to the Baldur’s Gate games. And second, it’s based in the Forgotten Realms setting of Dungeons and Dragons, and utilizes the 3rd and 3.5 Edition rules. It is also the game I have personally clocked more hours on than any other game ever. Literally, hundreds of hours. I kid you not. And you might be saying, “Well, Matt, that’s just sad. It’s a seven-year-old D&D game,” to which I would respond, “Shut up.” It was a damn good game. The story was epic and, in true BioWare fashion, half of the fun was meeting new characters and uncovering their secrets, developing relationships as you furthered your mission. I played through the original campaign when it was first released, then continued playing the modules. Picked up the expansions and played through their campaigns, and then, in 2004, I discovered the online community. There was a huge population of gamers playing Neverwinter Nights online on various custom worlds, all designed in different and interesting ways to suit dozens of playstyles and genres. I came across one server in particular, found myself liking the community and the atmosphere, and got hooked. I’ve been on that same server for over five years now. There are hiatuses here and there when I get burned out and take a few months to myself, but I always come back. And I think, maybe, I always will.

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